In celebration of the centenary of the Theory of Relativity, this exhibition features a special collection of materials held in the George A. Smathers Libraries relating to Albert Einstein’s celebrated tour of Japan.
Having won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921, Einstein embarked on a tour of London and Europe, followed by Asia and the Middle East. His visit to Japan was planned and funded by Sanehiko Yamamoto, the President of Japan’s most successful publishing house, Kaizosha, and an important political figure.
Yamamoto arranged for Einstein’s lecture series, a parade through Tokyo and his meeting with the Emperor and Empress. Einstein and his wife, Elsa stayed with the Yamamoto family in their home, and they became lifelong friends. In recognition of Yamamoto’s hospitality and friendship, Einstein gave him a traditional Japanese calligraphic rendering on silk with the words “Wissenschaft is die Religion unserer Zeit” (Science is the Religion of Our Time), together with a special illustrated scroll, photographs and letters.
This collection, chronicling a distance relationship that spanned 30 years, offers further insights into the human side of one of the 20th century’s great historical figures. It was donated to the Smathers Libraries in 2011 by Yamamoto’s granddaughter, Janet K. Yamamoto, professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Florida.
Between 1921-1922, Albert Einstein toured Asia and the Middle East. His tour of Japan in November 1922 was arranged by Sanehiko Yamamoto, a leading publisher and political figure in Japan, and the first person to publish Einstein’s works in Japanese. The tour was a great success and Einstein was enthusiastically welcomed with cries of “Einstein banza!” (Long May You Live), a greeting he later described as the most genuine and enthusiastic reception he had ever received. During that month, Einstein delivered lectures to seven Japanese universities. At Keio University, he gave a marathon six-hour lecture on relativity, and at Kyoto University, he delivered an impromptu speech about how he derived his famous theory.
Sanehiko Yamamoto sits at the far right with Albert Einstein to his left. Elsa Einstein sits beside her husband, towards the center of the photo.
Sanehiko Yamamoto hosted Einstein in his home. Yamamoto took great pride in bringing leading intellectuals to Japan, including writers and philosophers such as George Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell, as well as great scientists like Einstein. In this way, Yamamoto hoped to expose the Japanese people to prevailing ideas and philosophies and so further enrich Japanese society. While they stayed with him, Yamamoto’s illustrious house guests were encouraged to record their thoughts on large sheets of paper using a special pen in a traditional Japanese art form known as Shuki. On his sheet, Albert Einstein wrote “Wissenschaft is die Religion Unserer Zeit” (Science is the Religion of Our Time). Einstein also crafted a poem and illustration on a silk scroll as a gift for his host, as well as a special autographed letter of thanks.
Albert Einstein (American, Swiss, German, 1879-1955)
The drawing is a self-portrait of “the Einstein” at the board illustrating theory of relativity. Einstein points to a train and platform, while a flash of light is depicted to the right. On the chair taking notes is his Japanese biographer, Ishiwara. The rhyming, self-parodying poem provides a glimpse of Einstein’s humor.
Above is a section of the full scroll, which is shown to the left.
The people crowd in; ears are up
They all sit as though lost
Deep in thoughts, with glazed eyes,
Surrendered to a hard fate
The Einstein stands close to the board
Quickly preaching up and down,
And Ishiwara nimble and fine
Writes it all into his notebook.
Albert Einstein (American, Swiss, German, 1879-1955)
Autograph Letter to Sanehiko Yamamoto (in German)
“You, Mr. Yamamoto, are one of those leader figures which from an internal impulse will make available all your efforts to improve the social needs of your people. This goal and not the program of your party is your guidance. Your ideals reach further than the shaping of Japan in that you dedicate all your efforts to the formation of the largest political aim of our time, namely the modeling of an international organization towards the ending of war catastrophes. For this one needs the mutual understanding between men of various countries and the determination of the true international gifts of mankind among which science enjoys the first place...” (translated excerpt from letter).
This letter, and another addressed to Mrs. Yamamoto are sprinkled with gold dust.
Sanehiko Yamamoto (1879-1952) was President of Kaizosha, a major Japanese publishing house. Yamamoto’s magazine Kaizo (Reconstruction) had one of the largest circulations in the world (greater than “Time”). While he made sure to secure prominent national and international authors, Yamamoto also endeavored to include younger, little-known authors from diverse schools of thought. He similarly revolutionized the publishing industry by producing collections of small, inexpensive books that enabled a new generation of readers to gain access to major works.
Less well-remembered today, Yamamoto was instrumental in shaping Japan’s interwar and postwar intellectual landscape. He brought to Japan leading Western intellectual, cultural and scientific figures, including Albert Einstein in 1922.
Yamamoto cared deeply about his country and became heavily involved in politics. He even started his own political party, from which would come a number of Japan’s prime ministers. In 1946, he was placed on Japan’s red purge list and forbidden to engage in politics. This development put pay to his own leadership ambitions. In a 1949 letter to Einstein, Yamamoto expressed regret that he was forbidden to travel. Instead, he requested Einstein’s help in offering guidance and advice to his son, Shunta, during his visit to the United States.
Sanehiko Yamamoto (Japan, 1885-1952)
A type-writer was used to create this English letter by Sanehiko Yamamoto to Albert Einstein in response to a letter from Einstein himself. This previous letter contained the photograph found below.
This letter reads as follows:
December 29, 1949
Dear Dr. Einstein,
Mr. Toshio Suekane of the Japanese Y.M.C.A., who had been on a visit to the United States, returned to Japan recently and informed me of your recent conditions. I received your photograph that you kindly sent to me by Mr. Suekane. I was really overwhelmed with your overflowing great affection as of old and enjoyed in that instance a tast (sic) of happiness. Longingly I looked at your face intently and closely, thinking that your glorious record of playing a great role in the scientific civilization of the world and the peace of mankind is carved in the wrinkles of your face.
If I am released from the list of purgees (sic), I would like to go round the world once more and see you again,but I feel to my regret that I cannot act as I wish because of the situation with which you are so familiar. However, my son, Shunta Yamamoto, will go to the United States before long and stay there some time, seeing the culture of the United States and studying journalism. Shunta himself is looking forward, more than anything else, to have an opportunity of seeing you while in the United States. I earnestly hope that you will give him your guidance and advice when he calls on you.
Lastly, I am praying that you will specially take care of your health. Will you please give my best regards to your daughter? I shall be much pleased if you will kindly convey my words to Dr. Yukawa, when he comes back to the United States, that he will please also take care of his health.
"To Mr. Yamamoto with kind greetings
A. Einstein 49."
This online exhibition is based on the exhibition by the same name, displayed December 1 - December 22nd, 2015 in Marston Science Library at the University of Florida. Curated by Rebecca Jefferson. Online design by Mara Reynolds. All items were gifted by Janet K. Yamamoto to the George A. Smathers Libraries Special & Area Studies Collections.